We got back from our Hawaiian marathon experience two days ago. Here's a recap...
Fri, Dec 10
We arrive in Honolulu around noon. Marco Baltero, our gracious local host for the week, greets us with leis and takes us to our hotel -- the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki -- where we'll spend the weekend with our fellow TNTers. The weather is warm, muggy, and overcast, with occasional showers. Our hotel room balcony looks out across Waikiki beach to Diamond Head, a dormant volcano whose hilly slopes present the toughest challenge in the marathon course. At night, Marco takes us out to Duke's, a beachside bar, and then to a sushi place where we meet some of Marco's Navy buddies. We keep our alcohol-intake to a minimum and get to bed early.
Sat, Dec 11
We stand in a long line for our race numbers, then walk around Waikiki for a few hours in the rain. We hope it rains for the race, too. We spend the afternoon lounging in the hotel, trying to stay off our feet and drink as much water as possible. In the evening, we take a shuttle to the convention center for the TNT pasta dinner. There are thousands of TNTers here from all over the country. Northern California seems to have the largest group. We have dinner with my mentor, Dave Innis, and his group. Dave ran the Cal International marathon a week earlier and is here with his daughter Kelsey (a leukemia survivor) to cheer us on. There are some speeches, one by Frank Shorter, winner of the 1972 olympic marathon in Munich. We get back to the hotel early, but I stay up later than Jane, pacing the room with nervous excitement until midnight.
Sun, Dec 12, Marathon Day
Our alarm goes off at 3am. We put on our TNT shirts, race numbers, etc. Jane puts on her "camel", a backpack for carrying liquid with a thin hose for drinking. Jane fills hers with Gatorade. I've decided to rely on the water stations for my liquid, but I have a waist-pack in which I stuff my digital camera, a container of Advil, and 7 Power Gels. We meet the rest of the TNT team in the lobby at 4am. Jane and I split up here to go with our different groups. With the other runners I follow the running coach out of the hotel into a steady downpour. We walk through the rainy darkness toward the start line a mile or two away. Coming off a side street, we join a huge river of wet marathoners moving slowly towards the start. Dave Innis ran this race last year and told me that lining up at his correct pace hurt his time because every one else ignored the pace signs; he got stuck behind a lot of slower runners and walkers. Focussing on my goal of 4 hours, I ignore the pace signs and push my way up as close as I can to the start. I take some pictures, trying to protect the camera from the rain. Our camera doesn't have a flash, so I think I'll have to wait until the sun comes up to get any really good shots. At 5am, the gun fires, and a fireworks show erupts over the ocean to our left as we shuffle forward. I get across the start in less than a minute, and quickly settle into a 4 hour pace. I think that I've "beat the system" by neutralizing the 27,000+ crowd as an obstacle. With the rain neutralizing the Hawaiian heat, I think that conditions are favorable for a 4 hour finish. I pass Dave and Kelsey cheering on the left, but can't get over close enough for them to see me. We snake through downtown Honolulu, past Christmas lights and closed storefronts, dodging puddles. We loop back toward the start line and Waikiki. Around mile 4 I see Dave and Kelsey and their banner again. This time I'm on the right side and can give Dave a high-five. I'm keeping a close eye on my pace, and I'm still on target. Past Waikiki, we run through Kapiolani Park where the finish line is. The sun still hasn't come up, so it's very dark in the park. Around mile 8 we hit the Diamond Head hill. This road is a notorious bottleneck, because it's split in half to be shared by runners in both directions. I'm not slowed down by the crowd, though, just the hill. On the other side of the hill, at mile 10, I'm a little off my pace, but I figure that I can make up the time in the flat middle section of the course. About this time the sun is starting to come up, and it's warming up. The rain has almost stopped, but it's still overcast, so there's no direct sunlight. In addition to water and "Amino Vitale", a Gatorade-like drink, the water stations offer giant sponges for cooling off. Up until now, they've seemed irrelevant with the rain, but here I take one and squeeze it over my head. I feel water drench my whole body, including my waist-pack where the camera is. In a panic, I check the camera; sure enough, it's not working. I try to dismantle parts of it as I'm running to shake out the water, but I can't get it working again. I was just about to start getting good pictures with the sun coming out, too. This is so disappointing. After about a half-mile of fiddling with it, I finally give up on the camera and try to focus on the rest of the race. This is around mile 11, and I'm starting to hit a wall already. In training, I was able to hold a pretty solid pace for at least 14 or 15 miles, so I'm surprised and discouraged by this sudden flagging of stamina. I'm just starting out on the long Kalanianaole Highway, a monotonous, out-and-back stretch, when the leading runners pass me in the opposite direction, at around mile 22 for them. The leading pack is a group of three Kenyans, who will apparently stay neck-and-neck until the very end. At the half-way point my split is 2:10, so I know that 4 hours is out of the question. I shift my goal down to 4:30, hoping that I'll catch a second wind sometime soon. I try to recharge myself with Amino Vitale, Power Gel, and Advil, but nothing seems to work. It just keeps getting harder. The turnaround point is pyschologically tough. I keep expecting a simple cone or cul-de-sac, but instead at mile 15 we branch away from the highway for a 2 1/2 mile loop which includes a gradual incline. When I get back to the highway at mile 18, I'm in trouble. I start taking Advil at every water station. I start walking through the water stations. I stop checking or even caring about my pace. I run out of gel. The thought of seeing Jane in the opposite direction keeps me going for a while and when I see her at my mile 19 1/2, her mile 13 1/2, I bum a Power Bar and a kiss. At mile 20, I think, "Only 10K to go. You've run a lot of 10Ks." But when I get to mile 21, I can't believe I've only run one mile of that 10K. I think of all the friends and family who contributed money so that I could be here. I think of leukemia patients undergoing chemotherapy. These tricks don't work. I want to quit, or at least quit running. At mile 22 1/2, right before heading back up Diamond Head, just as I'm about to start walking, I see Dave Innis, who leaves the sidelines and starts running with me. It's great to see him. I tell him I'm "dying like a pig," which is what the coaches said would happen if you went out too fast. Listening to Dave talk takes my mind off the pain. He talks me up and over Diamond Head. He runs the rest of the way in with me, right up to the finishers' chute. I finish in 4:50. I'm not disappointed that I overshot my goal by 50 minutes. I'm happy, proud, and most of all, relieved. It's over. I did it.
After replenishing with food and drink, I start walking back up the course to help Jane through the last few miles. I'm sore as hell but flush with victory, so the pain doesn't touch me. I meet Jane and her walking partner, Charles Atthill, at the top of the Diamond Head hill, about two miles from the finish. I think they're glad to see me. They've walked the whole way at a very fast 14 minute/mile pace, faster than some of the runners I trained with. I have to jog to keep up. Jane suddenly starts running down the hill, leaving me and Charles behind. I can't keep up. The pain shooting through my legs pops an unsupportive thought into my head: "Stop running, dammit!" Luckily Jane starts walking again at the end of the hill and Charles and I catch up. I cheer them down the home stretch. I wish I could take a picture of them. Their official time is 6:24, but they spent 15 minutes waiting to cross the start line, so their actual time is more like 6:09. Unlike me, they kept up a steady, solid pace throughout and seem to be suffering slightly less as a result. Like me, they're happy, proud, victorious.
After sharing our war stories with Marco and our teammates, we take a bus back to the hotel and crash for a few hours. We take another bus to the convention center for the TNT victory party. I try to consume as much alcohol as I can. Watching everyone, ourselves included, trying to dance and even walk is pretty hilarious. We go to Duke's for a victory drink. I'm just drunk enough to tell Marco not to worry about driving us back to the hotel, we'll just walk along the beach. That turns out to be a mistake. A crippling 2-mile walk later and we're back in bed, asleep. Marathon day is over.
Mon-Fri, Dec 13-17
Marco puts us up for four nights at his place. He shows us around Oahu -- snorkling, boogie-boarding, tennis, etc. The weather clears up. We spend one day at the Pearl Harbor memorials and museums. We have several nice dinners with Marco and our TNT friends, including one at the Hau Tree to which Charles very generously treats us all. We decorate Marco's Christmas tree with his roommates and their friends one night. After three days, we can walk normally again. We have a great vacation.
Thanks again to all of you for making this incredible experience possible for us. Thanks to contributors like you, there are brand new leukemia treatments on the horizon that seem to hold-out real hope. Jane and I will try to keep running and walking. Let's all keep up the fight against cancer.